Many Jews first heard about the tragedy en route to Shabbat services on Saturday morning, and some rabbis delivered impromptu sermons based on the disaster. Others marked the tragedy with a few words or a special kaddish during the Saturday morning services. Some communities are holding memorial services throughout the week, including one held Monday at Yeshiva University, where president Norman Lamm praised Ramon: "What a magnificent gesture, what a magnificent Jew, what a magnificent human being."

Though there have been other Jewish astronauts, Ramon's mission took on added significance because he went to space at such a difficult time for Israel. He served as "a hopeful beacon," said his friend Rabbi Mark Blazer, of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, Ca.

Ramon was viewed as a hero in Israel. The Israeli government had already issued a postage stamp commemorating Israel's first astronaut. "The average Israeli knew far more about this mission than the average American," noted Blazer. Blazer was at the launch, and described a moving moment when many of the Jews and Israelis gathered at Cape Canaveral broke out into the song, "Oseh Shalom" ("Make Peace"). Blazer said that song was true to Ramon's message, that "this [space travel] is what can happen when people make peace."

The Israeli and Jewish communities are using technology to mourn Ramon as well. The Israeli Defense Force, which Ramon served as a colonel in the Air Force, set up a special email address (ilanfamily@mail.idf.il) where mourners can send messages that will be delivered to the family. One Israeli company has set up a website where users can light virtual candles in honor of Ramon and leave a message in either Hebrew or English.

Read more and share your thoughts:

  • Reflections on a hero by Rabbi Mark Blazer
  • Only God is God, a sermon by Rabbi Foster E. Kawaler
  • Ilan Ramon Memorial on Beliefnet
  • A New Kind of Tragedy for Israel
  • Michael P. Anderson
    Baptist

    Before he left on the Columbia shuttle mission last month, Michael P. Anderson had a talk with his pastor, the Rev. Freeman Simmons. On Sunday, congregants at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Spokane, Wash., learned of their conversation.

    "Don't worry if I'm not coming back," Simmons said Anderson told him. "I'm just going higher."

    For two hours this Sunday, the yellow clapboard church where Anderson grew in his faith was full of electric organ and hearty gospel singing as members worked through their grief at the loss of a son of the congregation. A robed choir sang gospel music, accompanied by organ and drums. A gospel choir brought the mostly black congregation to its feet with a rousing "Amazing Grace." The church bulletin bore a picture of Anderson in his NASA jumpsuit, an American flag and the space shuttle.

    Anderson's parents, Bobbie and Barbara Anderson, were making plans to travel to Houston for a memorial service. "I can feel sure that, by him being a Christian man, he is in a better place than where he would be on Earth," Anderson said.

    At the church, Rev. John Claiborne, another of the church's pastors, prayed: "We thank God for Michael because he died doing what he loved. I will that each of us could live a life like he did. Just yesterday, a tragedy came, but, Lord, we know that you have all power on Heaven and Earth.Don't let their lives be in vain. We pray now that some life will be changed. Someone will realize that there's more to life than right now."

    Like many memorial services in African-American Baptist churches, the mood was exuberant. One member, Joan Johnson, explained it this way: "It's not ever sad here. We know Michael is with the Lord," she said. "It's like a home-going."

    Read more:

  • The Rev. Steve Riggle remembers Anderson
  • Audio: Anderson on His Faith

    Kalpana Chawla
    Hindu and Sikh background

    "The first view of the Earth is magical. ...in such a small planet, with such a small ribbon of life, so much goes on. It is as if the whole place is sacred. You get the feeling that I need to work extraordinarily hard along with other human beings to respect that," said astronaut Kalpana Chawla in a 1998 interview. The 41-year-old Indian-American's sentiments about Earth's fragility--along with her achievements--resonated with people across the world.